Adobe’s Worms

Apple and their issue in not supporting Flash Player for iOS

I know. I haven’t blogged in awhile. It’s been a crazy period for me, both in my business and personal life, and in the web business in general. It would take a major event for me to seize the chance to type up a diatribe on something these days. And just that happened this past week.

By now, many of you know about the situation where Adobe made a slew of announcements. Some positive, but it’s always the negative ones that get the press. And that was the case here. One big issue that Adobe didn’t announce at their annual MAX conference last month here in Los Angeles that will change many designers and developers lives far more than anything actually announced back at MAX.

Of course, I’m talking about the death of Flash Player.

Notice I did not say the death of Flash Player for Mobile. That’s because once they made that announcement, they might as well have killed it for the browser as well.

Because you can’t have one without the other. These days, mobile device web design and development is becoming more and more important to a developer’s toolbox as more people are purchasing smartphones and more importantly, tablets. The majority of which start with a lower case letter ‘i’ and end in an upper-case ‘D’.

Naturally, I’m talking about the iPad and Apple.

While it’s been frustrating for Flash to not display on an iPhone or iPod Touch, it wasn’t a huge deal because trying to view a complex Flash site…or any website not optimized for phones, can be very frustrating. If anything, it’s opened a new door for designers and developers for the creation of mobile friendly webpages that would look great on phones. Those Flash sites were never meant to be seen on an iPhone! Big deal!

Then the iPad was introduced.

And then it was a big deal. A really big deal. A site optimized for phones would look lousy on a tablet. They even developed user agents (those scripts to detect what device you’re on) to separate the iPhone/iPod Touch crowd with the iPad faithful. I’m still waiting for that to happen with Android devices, but it hasn’t yet.

So an iPad really was meant to display a website mainly like it would on a PC or Mac. At least that was the idea. But Flash? Forget it. It was still a pipe dream and one not going away.

All along, I kept telling people that this was some kind of political issue between Apple and Adobe. I had zero proof of this, but considering I lived in Louisiana for eight years, I knew something about political maneuvering BS just like this. This made sense.

And then on the final day of this year’s Adobe MAX, Steve Jobs was proclaimed dead. I remember it all too well. It was even in the final hour of the conference that it went down. I was with two other local developers and one of them got the call from her daughter. She didn’t even believe her at first until I went on my Droid and found the headlines. Amazing timing. Even in death, Steve Jobs could figure a way to trump Adobe’s big event.

After his death, a lot of people of course eulogized and remembered. And Apple placed that graphic of Jobs on their homepage for what seemed like forever. There are a lot of things Jobs did that were certainly good.  He and Steve Wozniak (don’t forget Woz) started the whole personal computer genre. Then decades later, reinvented the music and movie industries and how to sell and market their products. Of course, there was also the bad. Steve was a tyrant who could drive practically anyone nuts. I certainly would never want to work for someone like that. He had his own philosophies and it seemed at times he didn’t care what other people thought. It was all for the greater good of the book of Jobs.

So that takes us to Walter Issacson’s new bio of Jobs. It finally explains what I pretty much assumed. I just didn’t know the why. On page 415 of the book, Issacson explains his conversations with Jobs as he described Flash as a “spaghetti-ball” of a mess, and if he licensed Flash onto iOS, then his devices might as well be just like Androids, Blackberries and the like. That’s not really true, of course. but it was pretty clear he was out to get Adobe.

Way back when Jobs took back Apple, he came up with OSX and requested Adobe migrate its product line to the new operating system immediately. They didn’t, right away, and I don’t blame Adobe for that. I didn’t make the switch up to OSX immediately either, figuring it would have a bunch of bugs and issues and I didn’t want to be forced in the matter. Adobe did what Quark didn’t in regards to Quark XPress and that was to make OSX and OS9 versions of its software for years before finally settling on the new OS exclusively. This was the right idea.

But now because of that, Jobs decided to send Apple to the penalty box and he then did his infamous diatribe on Adobe with his “Thoughts on Flash” rant just days prior to Adobe releasing Creative Suite 5 which included a way to create iOS apps in Flash Professional. But Jobs shot it down and while he did change his mind six months later, the damage was done.

It was time to stop using Flash.

Personally, I had no interest in doing anything with Apple’s Objective-C language. But I also starting hearing more and more about HTML5. So much so that around late summer 2010 I started to investigate the new features and what it could do. I even had a meeting with a couple of LA area developers who were in the process of creating a Flash-like app for creating HTML5 content. It never came to fruition but it was pretty clear HTML5 was about to change the way I work.

It’s not the first time I’ve rolled the dice and experimented with new technology. Back when I first started web design in 1996, I remember looking at HTML books at Barnes & Noble and overhearing conversations about a new language called VRML. Remember that? Virtual Reality Markup Language. Basically, the original Flash. Only much jerkier and crash-ridden. And then there was Java. That was so bad and buggy I refused to touch it and even told clients, “If you want Java…go to Starbucks”. I’m happy to say except for a couple of early experiments around 1996 and 1997, I avoided Java big time.

Flash I first saw in 1997 and I knew it could work. Especially on low bandwidth connections which was pretty much everyone in those days. It kept me going for 13 years but it was becoming clear I needed to stop playing with it and look for a shiny, new toy.

And that’s where HTML5 came in.

And since then I’ve been able to create apps for Ford and other businesses. Companies I probably would have never been able to get without having an early knowledge of HTML5 (and CSS3). I started telling developers that they needed to learn this pronto or they’d be left behind.

And that’s exactly what is starting to happen now. Just recently, a major Flash agency in the area had a huge downsizing, firing most of their staff and shutting down their offices, opting to work from homes instead. It was very sad to hear the news, but the agency continued to work in Flash, and while their work was excellent, it doesn’t matter if nobody wants it. So just like Adobe this week, they downsized. Who knows? Maybe they started outsourcing to India as well.

A lot of people think that Adobe’s announcement of the end of Flash Player for mobile is the end of the company. That’s just ridiculous. The company will continue but like all of us, Adobe will simply continue to evolve. They did so when they announced the Creative Cloud at this year’s MAX, and they did so a year earlier when they showed a very early alpha-version of a product called Edge. A product that would allow you to create interactive HTML5-based projects.

That right there, is their future.

Case in point, just a few days prior to the announcement, I was having a meeting at one of my restaurant clients, Tender Greens, about getting rid of the final Flash-based elements in their current site. When I took over the site almost two years ago, it was all Flash. Even I realized at the time that it was becoming an outdated technology and convinced the client it was a good idea to “redesign” the site using HTML while keeping anything that was truly animated as Flash .swf movies. This week, I started recreating those simple animations in Adobe’s newest product, Edge, into workable HTML5 animations an iPad can display. The homepage animation is already completed and went live back on the evening of November 11th. While there were some color/brightness tweens I couldn’t accomplish in Edge, I’d much rather have content the viewer can see than view no content at all.

Edge is definitely Adobe’s future and I’m betting the farm on it.

Adobe is going full bore on HTML5 development. They’re even doing an event in Hollywood this week about exactly that.

And Flash will also evolve. It will no longer be used to create experiences for the browser. It will be an excellent tool for creating web applications for regular PCs but mainly for mobile devices on all major platforms. Mostly games, but all sorts of other interesting things, too. Even Flex, now about to become an open-source project called Spoon, will continue to evolve.

What won’t evolve are the people and companies who didn’t get on the HTML5 train fast enough. There’s still a lot of great opportunities to create rich and exciting projects using this new technology. I’m definitely interested and intrigued about what I will see next.

As for the rest of the news this week, it is never fun when anyone does a mass firing of talent. Especially to hire cheap talent somewhere else on the planet to do the same work. Especially around the holiday season. I just hope they can start the new year in a new and maybe even better place. That’s what happened when Adobe let 750 mostly US based employees go. Many of whom were on the Flash team, and now it seems Adobe India will take over development. Never a good thing in my opinion. I’m proud to say I’ve never outsourced to India, Pakistan or other countries and continue to only bring in US based talent when needed. Not trying to raise the flag, but I’m much more interested in hiring good, quality talent instead of the cheapest.

There have been many complaints and even petitions within the Adobe community that the CEO should step down as the Flash community has been devastated. Really? I left New Orleans in 1995 from a hurricane. That is devastation. This is evolution. And Adobe is evolving as well they should and as we all should. Some Flash developers will become HTML5/JQuery developers. Others will continue to develop in Flash but for mobile apps instead of sites. Others? Well, they simply won’t adapt and they’ll be the ones you won’t see around anymore.

Steve Jobs did mention, in Isaacson’s new book, that he thought Adobe lost its soul as soon as founder John Warnock left the perch. He was probably correct there. Adobe is not the same company since Warnock left as much as Apple wasn’t the same when Jobs left in ’85 and won’t be the same now that he is gone. Sure, the purchase of Macromedia brought in a ton of their talent. Much of which still remains with the combined property. Adobe will never be as large as Apple or Microsoft. They don’t do hardware and they don’t have an operating system. Just really good creative software and that’s it. Does that mean Apple or someone else will try to do a power play on Adobe in the future? Probably. Can Adobe evolve to the point where they can continue their reign of excellence? I’m very much banking on it.